Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Telluride, Colorado

June 8 - 13, 2015:

It’s a move day and finally the sun is out as we prepare for the death-defying drive (not really) on route 550 known as the Million Dollar Highway.  Actually it didn’t seem like that much of an uphill climb since we started out at 9,318 feet in Silverton, Colorado.  The road peaks at 11,008 feet at Red Mountain Pass snaking around many tight curves with avalanche warnings on one side and shear dropoffs on the other side.  It’s amazing scenery if you dare take your eyes off the road.  (Twinkles drove the Jeep solo and is now an accredited mountain driver.)  On the downhill side we came upon the beautiful town of Ouray in the valley surrounded by mountain peaks.  They call it the “Switzerland of America” for good reason and we will be back, if I have anything to say in this!   We continued to Ridgeway, another quaint mountain town, then took Route 62 to Placerville where we take route 145.  We bypassed Telluride to get to our destination at the Matterhorn Campground near Ophir, Colorado.  The last 8 mile stretch of road was another scenic wonder, going steeply uphill.  The campground is in the Uncompahgre National Forest, a beautiful wild spot and looks like a postcard view.  We could only get reservations here for two nights and expected to have to move into a dry camping site, but another full hookup site opened two campsites away.  We actually hopped to get into the Telluride town park, but when we looked at it, it was small, congested, full of tents and sort of dumpy looking.

Photo taken on a calm section of the ride

Giving the Hawk a rest after a long uphill climb
almost at the campground

Twinkles relaxing in the campground

The campsite was most scenic

Telluride is another classic old mining boom town that didn’t die.  It was founded in 1878 as “Columbia” then renamed as Telluride in 1887 to avoid confusion with another town of the same name.  It was named for the mineral Telluride which ironically was never found in Telluride’s mines.  Early travelers to Telluride also referred to it as " To Hell You  Ride" due to its remote location.
The town got a big boost when the Rio Grande Southern Railroad came to town which greatly improved shipping cost for the mines.  Another huge boost came when the worlds first hydro electric AC power plant was constructed to supply cheaper power to the mines and the town. This put to rest the debate concerning AC power verses DC power.   As the mines played out, skiing and tourism took over and by the 1980’s Telluride became, for a short while, a best kept secret travel destination.  That is no longer true, the ski area and Mountain Village is now world class and it is a year round outdoors sports mecca.  Real estate has since gone through the roof of course, but they have kept development somewhat in check and managed to preserve the original downtown character. No fast foods,big box stores or Walmarts yet !

Galloping Goose # 5 parked in Telluride

Downtown Telluride view

The San Miguel County Courthouse

Bridal Veil Falls and the old electrical power
house at the end of the box canyon

The Ski area is huge

Telluride banker Charles Waggoner swindled
money from New York banks to save his
Telluride customer's money 

The Telluride area and Colorado as a whole have had about three times the normal rainfall in May and it is continuing in June, everything here is wet and flowing.  The forecast is for periods of rain every day this week which is putting a damper on our outside activities.

On Wednesday morning we took a jeep ride on a nearby mountain road to the old mining ghost town of Alta at 11,000 foot elevation.  Luckily it was the only dry part of the day with a few moments of sunshine.  The road continued beyond the Alta ghost town site for a few miles to Alta Lakes with the mountains covered with snow and the lakes still ice covered.  The route guide said it would be a picture perfect view which we found to be 100% accurate.  Along the roads we saw several snowmobiles just left in snow banks, kind of a mystery, but I guess that’s what you do here ?  It’s almost mid June and lots of snow still in these mountains, it must last well into July.

A smooth section of the road

There were several old mine structures like this remaining

We parked the jeep and walked to the Alta Lakes amid
these snow drifts

Alta Lakes were beautiful but still frozen

It was a mountain top view with imposing clouds

We have found another great bakery, “Baked in Telluride” which also has great food and seems to be town favorite.  It also has free WiFi so we will be hanging out there quite often.  There are endless shopping and dining opportunities in Telluride if so inclined.

Thursday morning we took the jeep on the road to Ophir, another old mining town a few miles from the campground.  It’s still a real town, even has a post office and many of the houses are fairly new but made to look rustic.  The town sits in a beautiful valley with many old mines dotting the hillsides.  This road gets very narrow and wild beyond the town and a sign said it was still closed.  If open, the road continues to the ghost town of Old Ophir, then crosses the mountains at Ophir Pass and connects to route 550 between Ouray and Silverton. This is the shortest way between Telluride and Silverton.

An old mine site in the hills

It's a beautiful valley

We then took Forest Road 625 into a lush valley along the south fork of the San Miguel River, past the town of Ilium, where we came upon a Nature Conservancy Preserve area.  We took a short hike there on a trail that ran parallel to the river.  This road eventually connects with route 145 just west of Telluride.

Twinkles next to a large tree felled by beavers,
I suppose once it fell they couldn't drag it

The river was flowing so full and fast

We then returned to Telluride, stopping again at our favorite “Baked in Telluride” for lunch and getting a mail delivery at the post office. The weekly Farmers Market going on a block away and we rarely pass one of them.  It was well attended, many vendors but quite pricey, like everything in Telluride.  Adjacent to the market location is the downtown station for the gondola up into the ski area and the impressive ultra sophisticated Mountain Village.  The gondola is a great ride, very scenic, it is free and and you get to see how the one percenters live in the village.

View from the Gondola

One small section of the "village"

It was another jeep adventure on Saturday, taking it out on the “Last Dollar Road” which starts off going through rolling ranch terrain, stands of Aspen, a few upscale wealthy homes and then climbs uphill into dense mountainous forest lands.  The road gets progressively more narrow, rough, rocky, muddy, rutted and flooded as you go along. Our jeep is stock and not up for any real wild terrain so we eventually wimped out and turned around.  
We did a similar thing latter in the day on Tomboy road in Telluride.  The sign said that the road is only maintained in the summer and it started getting really steep and rough, obviously not maintained yet, so we stopped and backed down to a turn around point. Backing down a steep rough hill on a narrow road with a shear drop off on her side had Twinkles very nervous !

A " John Denver" country roads Aspen view

These Aspen stands are beautiful

An old cabin along the road

Next stop is Ridgway State Park north of Ridgway, Colorado,
Twinkles and Slick 

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